Learn how to build a solar panel and cut your energy bills in half! The ultimate guide for both, experts and beginners. Good luck!
Ever thought about cutting your rocket high electricity bills, planning to live off-grid, or just looking for a way to live a bit more environmentally friendly? Making your own solar panels at home will achieve all of these desires.
Solar panel systems have been getting more and more attention in the last decade. While gaining popularity the technology also improved with more efficient, smaller, and cheaper cells.
More and more household owners take advantage of solar panel systems in their homes, but companies who build home solar systems are still very expensive and can charge you $10,000 to $20,000 for a full home solar system. Such a big investment would probably pay-off in 10-20 years’ time and only then start saving you money.
What if you could build your own cheap solar panel system at home for just a fraction of the company quoted price? Yes, it is possible to make a similar if not the same system by yourself if you plan properly and get the right materials and equipment.
In this guide, I will show you how to make solar panels at home by providing step-by-step instructions, a shopping list, and tips and tricks for a DIY solar panel system for the home.
And while your here, make sure to also read our Backyard Revolution Reviews right here. It’s currently the top #1 DIY solar panel training on the market.
Things to take into consideration before you build a solar panel:
Laws to use solar panels at home
Using DIY solar panels at home might require you to comply with local laws, standards, or insurance policies. Make sure to do some research on what standards you need to follow within your local municipality and also discuss it with your insurance company. Some insurance companies might not pay out your insurance if something happens to the house because of the homemade solar panel system.
Are you ready to build it yourself?
I made this tutorial so that everyone could make solar panels at home, however, it requires quite a bit of work and time. Make sure you are ready to cut, measure, glue, and solder. Saving money on electricity and going off-grid requires some sacrifice, in this case, some manual labor.
Your geographical location
You can be the most experienced solar panel builder, but if you live in a dark and cloudy place your solar panels aren’t worth much.
If it’s raining, snowing, or cloudy most of the days building solar panels is probably not worth it.
If you are in the USA almost all states have enough sunlight throughout the year.
What materials and parts do you need to build a solar panel at home?
Well, obviously you will need solar cells. Usually, solar cells are made in America, Japan, and China. American and Japanese made solar cells are usually the best quality ones but cost more, while the Chinese are cheaper but their quality might be questionable.
If you are buying cheap solar cells online make sure they are not damaged or scratched. Otherwise, you might build your whole solar panel system, and half of the cells won’t be functional. Another fantastic option would be a smart solar box system. That would basically be a portable solar system you could use even in the great outdoors.
I would advise going for polycrystalline cells since their cost-to-efficiency ratio is the best. In this tutorial, we’ll build a 32 solar cell panel that will generate us around 16V at 2 amps. This is plenty to charge a car battery. I would advise getting 2-4 extra cells, they are very fragile and might break during assembly, so it’s wise to have a couple of extras.
If you want to build a more powerful solar power source you just need to build extra panels. So repeat the process as many times as you want.
Materials you will need:
- Plexiglass sheet
- Wooden board (2’x4’ or a bit bigger)
- 4x pieces of the plank (1×2 inches in size)
- Tabbing and bus wiring
- Charge controller
- Blocking diode
- Terminal block
- Tile crosses
- 12v deep cycle battery
- Soldering iron
- Solder paste or flux
- A saw
How to make solar panels at home step-by-step
Step 1. Planning the DIY solar panel
As I mentioned in this guide I’ll show you how to build a single panel from 32 4-inch cells. If you want to power more devices, you just need to build more panels. You can build as many as you like as long as you have space for them.
For the frame, you’ll need a non-conductive material like wood, plastic, or glass. I think using wood is the easiest since you can drill through it with ease. I’m using a 2×4 foot wooden board. We will attach solar cells to it.
Take out your cells and gently arrange them on the board. Use tile crosses to separate the cells and organize them evenly and neatly. You should arrange them in 3 rows of 8 solar cells each. Now use a pencil and outline all the cells, also make sure to leave an inch on each side of the board for wires that will connect the rows and also space for framing.
Don’t worry if you have quite a bit of board left, we will cut it later.
Step 2. Preparing the solar cells
Now we need to prepare the solar cells before mounting them on our frame. If you take your solar cells you can see multiple small lines going in the long direction and two bigger lines going in the small direction.
We will use tabbing wire to connect all the cells in the array. Make sure to buy pre-soldered tabbing. It’s a bit more expensive but will save us time and unnecessary soldering. You need to measure the bigger line on the cell and double the length, we’ll need two pieces of tabbing of such length for each cell. In my case, I need 64 same size wires cut for the cells.
Now we need to flux our work area. Take your flux pen and make 2 or 3 lines on the larger 2 lines of the cell, make sure to flux the lines and dots on the back. The fluxing will prevent oxidation when soldering.
Now take some soldering lead and solder one wire to the bigger line on the back of the cell. The wire will be hanging out on the side and will be used to connect to the other solar cell. Do the same to the second line. You’ll have to repeat the same process with all the cells.
Here’s a great video from Green Tech Town on how to solder the tabbing wire on the cells:
Step 3. Connecting the solar cells
Now that we have 32 solar cells with tabbing wire hanging out we can start assembling the array.
Connecting the first row
Take the wooden board frame that you measured and outlined where the cells are going to be placed. We want to start at the top left and go down. Take your first solar cell, put some glue on the back of it and glue it on the top left rectangle that you outlined. Make sure the extra tabbing wire is positioned to the bottom.
Now repeat the same process with the second cell, just make sure the tabbing wire from the first cell goes on top of the second cell. Apply flux to the tabbing wire that is on top of the second cell. Now solder the hanging tabbing wire to the thick line on top of the second cell.
Repeat this process until you have 8 solar cells connected in one row. Now we need to connect the whole row with a bus wire. You’ll need to cut 2 pieces of tabbing wire per row (we’ll have 3 rows) to make it the length of the cell plus an inch more. Now solder the two wires on top of the first solar cell so that the extra one inch tabbing wire is hanging upwards.
Cut a piece of bus wire a bit shorter than the width of the cell and solder the two hanging tabbing wires on top of the wire bus. Congratulations, you have just connected a row of solar cells! You can glue the wire bus to the wooden board.
Connecting the second and the third row
We need to do the same thing we did with the first row just from the other side. We need to start from the bottom rectangle and go upwards. Meaning the first cell you glue to the board needs to have the tabbing wire hanging upwards. We are basically making a zig-zag. Continue connecting all 8 cells and finish the row.
In order to finish off the row cut 2 more tabbing wires with an extra inch in length as we did for the first row. Solder them to the first cell of the second row with tabbing wire hanging at the bottom. Now for the bus wire, we need to make it twice as long because we will connect 2 solar cell rows. Place it at the bottom of the first row so that you can connect hanging wires from the first row and have enough length to solder second-row tabbing wires.
We have two rows connected! The third row is exactly the same as the first row, the only difference is we will need a longer bus wire (like we needed when connecting the first and second rows) and connect the cells at the top of the second and third row.
Ok, perfect we have our DIY solar panel skeleton!
Step 4. Framing the solar cell panel
Ok, so now we have our board with connected solar panels. Let’s make a proper frame so the panel is sturdier.
Take your panel and draw a rectangle around your solar panel array with an extra 1 inch of space. Now you can cut the excess board if there is any.
Take your wooden planks and measure them the size of the board we cut. 2 planks the length of the long side of the board and 2 the size of the shorter size of the board. Now screw the planks together with deck screws making a rectangle box.
Take the rectangle plank box, put glue on the bottom of it, and lay it onto your solar cell board. In order to make it sturdier, you can screw some deck screws through the planks to the board.
Step 5. Wiring our DIY solar panel system
Grab a drill and make two holes in the plank where the first and third-row bus wires are. We’ll need to wire them.
Grab a diode that has a little bigger amperage (more than 2 amps) than our panel and connect it to the bus wire of the third row with negative wiring, usually colored black. You’ll need to solder it together. The light-colored side of the diode should be pointing away from the panel. The diode prevents the energy from the battery from going back into the panel. Add a black wire to the diode so we could reach the charge controller.
Now take the positive wire and solder it to the bus wire of the first cell row, through the hole in the plank.
Connect to the charge controller
When we have a positive wire going from the first row and a negative wire with a diode from the third row we need to connect the wires to a charge controller. Make sure you connect the positive and negative wires correctly to the side of the charge controller. To make it more convenient I like to attach my charge controller to the back of our solar panel. Just screw it with a few small screws or use glue.
Connect to the battery
Connecting the charge controller to the battery is pretty easy as well. Grab negative and positive wires, connect properly to the charge controller battery side and the other ends of the wire go to the battery. Again, make sure positive and negative wires go on respectful sides.
Connecting the inverter
Now all you need to do is hook up your inverter to the battery (again connect negative and positive wires properly) and you can start using the solar power energy if your solar panel is already outside.
Step 6. Protecting solar cells panel
In order to protect the fragile solar cells, I advise using plexiglass. Take 4 1×1 inch wooden blocks. You might have to cut them yourself. Glue inside of all 4 corners of your solar panel box. Now grab your plexiglass and measure the dimensions needed to fit inside the box. Cut it and put it inside the box so the plexiglass sits on 4 wooden blocks. Take your sealant and seal the plexiglass to your panel box.
That is it! Your first DIY solar panel system is finished. Now if you want more power generated you will have to build more panels like that. Now you know the whole process of how to make cheap solar panels at home so consequent panels will be built much faster.
Step 7. Positioning your solar panel system outside
The hard work is done and your DIY solar panel is ready. Now you need to decide where you’ll keep them. A lot of people put solar panels on their roofs or on the ground if they have enough space.
No matter where you choose to put your panels make sure they are positioned so they get most of the sun time during the day. If it’s on the roof, be sure it’s the side of the roof that gets the most sunlight during the day.
If it’s on the ground position them at a 45-degree angle. You might need to build a simple wooden stand or you can use a satellite stand for your panel. If you don’t mind spending a bit more money you can get a fancy stand that turns with the sun to grab all of the sunlight throughout the day.